The questions that 800m video app devotees should be starting to ask
YMichael Cogley ou should only use viral video app TikTok if you are happy for your data to be accessed by the Chinese state. At least, that’s according to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who earlier this month said he is considering a ban on the app in the US amid fears it could compromise national security.
The company, which has 800 million users globally, claims Pompeo’s allegation is “completely false”.
TikTok’s collection of sensitive user data have fuelled fears it could be used by Beijing as a surveillance tool or for propaganda purposes. Given the heightened concern around the app, should you delete it on your phone?
What is TikTok?
Owned by ByteDance, a Shenzenbased technology start-up, TikTok has been downloaded more than 2bn times since its launch in 2016.
It has become the first Chineseowned social media platform to attract a mass following in Western countries, where it is used by tens of millions of teenagers to share viral dance routines, sketches and lip syncing videos.
In the UK, the app is expected to break 10m users by the end of next year, up from 4.9m in 2019.
What are the major concerns about TikTok?
The US government fears that TikTok could be compelled to hand over user data to the Chinese government – a claim the company has repeatedly refuted.
There are some who also fear that the Chinese government could gain access to TikTok data through spyware without the company’s knowledge.
Indeed such risks led to Amazon urging its employees to delete the app.
The New York Times reported that Amazon told workers in an internal email to stop using the app due to “security concerns”.
However, it quickly backtracked on the stance, insisting the mail had been sent in error.
TikTok also prompts more concern than other social networks because has a large proportion of young users
– and many believe it is not doing enough to protect them.
The Daily Telegraph recently revealed that paedophiles caught grooming children on the site were only receiving one-week suspensions.
The company says it takes safety seriously for all of its users and that it was introducing new measures to protect younger users.
How much data is collected?
The company starts collecting data the minute you download the app. It tracks the websites you’re browsing and how you type, down to keystroke rhythms and patterns.
“The problem here is not the quantity of data that’s being collected, but rather who else can access it. And those problems exist on the end of data transmission that no one but TikTok can see,” said Oded Vanunu, head of products vulnerability research at Check Point Software Technologies.
US officials haven’t provided any proof publicly that TikTok is sharing information with the Chinese government.
The company says American user data is stored in servers in the US and Singapore, not China.
TikTok’s terms of service do, however, stipulate that the company may share information with its parent, subsidiary or other affiliate.
Should I delete TikTok from my phone?
“We know that Google and Facebook collect a lot of the same data, but they use it to make more money,” said Kirsten Martin, professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.
“The problem lies in not knowing what TikTok is doing with the data, if they are manipulating it and whether the data is going into the hands of an adversary.”
However, Pompeo’s suggestion that using TikTok essentially means you are handing over your data to China remains unproven.
His criticism must also be viewed in the context of the ongoing economic and political rivalry between Washington and Beijing.
Whether or not security fears around TikTok are substantiated, there may be other reasons you want to delete it from your phone, such as its safety protocols for children.
And, given the range of concerns circulating the app, the choice of deleting it may soon be taken out of users’ hands.
Tiktok stars include British political satirist Meggie Foster